We moved around a lot when I was a kid.
Every couple of years it was a new school, new landscapes and new friends.
There was a constant however…. returning each summer holiday to the green and lush northern rivers, home to my mum’s extended family and the place where my dad met my mum.
Otherworldly and slow paced, it’s big rivers, sugarcane farms, little old towns full of verandahed wooden cottages seemed magical to us.
Flowers and vines grew in profusion, colorful rosellas swooped above our heads, frog and cicada choirs accompanied our dinner and everything was different. Houses had sleep outs, screened and covered porches, where we slept on the hot humid nights, wriggling, tossing and turning on squeaky old iron beds.
Even the furniture was different. Small cane chairs and tables, ornate wooden dressing tables, picture frames with sea shells and crocheted doilies on every surface, and especially over the milk jug to keep pesky flies and bugs out.
Electric storms would rattle the house.We’d watch lightning strikes and count for the thunderclap, measuring the miles between us and it. Tropical rain would pound the tin roof for hours and we would squeal in fear and excitement.
The main highway was still 2 lanes, and instead of bridges there were punts, big river ferries that carried cars and trucks across. The punt operators would signal cars on, and then switch on to pull us across the river on submerged iron ropes. At the same time another punt would leave from the other river bank and pass by on its parallel run.It was a 24/7 operation but at Christmas the cars would line up for miles, and us kids would run to count how many were waiting and to tell those at the end of the line just how many were ahead of them! 115 cars one time.
Now big bridges cross the rivers and there is only one little punt left, on the back road to Grafton, moving traffic from one river island to another. I take my Californian family that way whenever I can, so they can experience the slow down, wait your turn silent crossing ( chanting a soft prayer “please don’t build a bridge, please don’t build a bridge”.)
The Clarence is the biggest river on the East Coast, and it’s islands are big enough for hamlets and farms. Fishermen plie the entrance for the famous Yamba prawns, everyone tries for flat head and mullet from their tinnys and some pubs have docks. Sunset over the big expanse of river is glorious.
Further north is Byron Bay, hipper and quicker and home to new age celebrities and movie stars. A whole industry devoted to beauty and awareness and creativity, and real estate prices to match.Hatted restaurants and music festivals and flights to Sydney and Melbourne several times a day.
Our stretch of coastline is about 100 miles of empty, golden beaches, punctuated by bushy headlands and rivers. The towns at the rivers mouth grow slowly, settled mostly by retirees, always a bowling club and a lot of unattractive brick veneer homes w a boat or caravan and man shed in the back. National parks rule so development is limited.Investors from the city want views, preferably from modern multi story complexes so even cool architecture is in short supply!
Our town, Iluka is completely surrounded by National Park and a listed rainforest, so the beaches are snug against forest and sometimes we see kangaroos on the beach, once an emu!
Within the 100 mile swath of Northern Rivers area are big rivers which meander across rich farmland, sugarcane farms near the coast, cattle farms inland and timber getting up in the mountains. Everything grows like crazy, and there is a whole category of country bush foods that everyone grows, cooks and eats: macadamia nuts, finger limes, grammas and chokos, pumpkins and potkins,passion fruits,pawpaws and mangos, lilly pillies and rosellas. Oysters,oysters,oysters .
Retro,hip and artisan all at once!
Tourists drive through en route to the cities, lots of surfers and backpackers seek out the empty beaches and the little towns swell at weekends with Queenslanders, escaping high rise, overdeveloped coastline and looking to recreate their childhood seaside holidays….walking miles on the beach, bodysurfing and swimming, fishing from an old aluminum tinny in the river and eating fish and chips from the fisherman’s co-op.
I’m so happy that the northern rivers are once again a constant in my life.